Two faculty members join the Institutes of Energy and the Environment


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two researchers have become cofunded faculty members in the Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE): Hee Jeung Oh, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, and Hilal Ezgi Toraman, an assistant professor in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences with a joint appointment in the College of Engineering.

Hee Jeung Oh

Oh’s work addresses pressing challenges in the water-energy nexus and in health. Her research focuses on designing innovative membranes for energy-efficient separations, energy storage and biomedical devices.

“With the world’s population growing rapidly, the need for clean water and energy is greater than ever, and with rising life expectancy, the prevalence of age-related diseases is increasing rapidly,” Oh said. “It may sound like a broad range of applications, but when looking at the fundamental core of my research group, we focus on polymer membranes for molecule separation and study how small molecules such as water, ions and gases selectively move across the polymer membranes.”

According to Oh, polymer membranes play central roles in technologies related to clean water, including reverse osmosis desalination and forward osmosis, as well as in energy storage such as polymer electrolytes in batteries and fuel cells, electrodialysis and artificial photosynthesis. It also includes biomedical engineering in items such as sensors, hemodialysis and both drug release and capture.

“Our research program includes designing and synthesizing new polymers, developing processing methods for new structures and evaluating their transport and structural properties,” Oh said. “These four areas (design, synthesis, processing and characterization) are highly complementary to each other and are necessary to develop our molecular-level understanding of transport in polymer membranes and eventually the design principles of advanced membranes.”

Oh said her research group’s work is highly interdisciplinary.

“We have been working with surgeons at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine for last several years to develop polymer membranes for removing unwanted chemotherapy drugs from the body. We also have worked with engineers in a 3D printing company called Carbon Inc. to develop 3D membranes for biomedical devices,” Oh said. “The environment at Penn State is perfectly suited for our research program and we are excited to be a part of IEE.”

Before coming to Penn State, Oh completed her postdoctoral training in chemical and biomolecular engineering at University of California, Berkeley. She earned her doctorate and master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and her bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

Hilal Ezgi Toraman

Toraman’s research interests include chemical reaction engineering with a focus on developing new processes, materials and technologies for efficient and sustainable use of shale gas, biogas, biomass and plastic waste.

Toraman noted that her research is in line with the Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources thematic area of Penn State’s strategic plan.

“I am planning to work on methane, which is the main constituent of shale gas and biogas,” she said. “Methane, which is currently underutilized, has the potential to be an essential source of energy and chemicals in the near future.”

Plastic is another aspect of Toraman’s research, which she pointed out is used widely yet little thought has been given to how plastic impacts waste management systems.

“The overwhelming majority of global plastic waste, roughly 80%, is being landfilled or contaminating the environment, and this has serious climate, health, social and economic implications,” Toraman said. “Studies show that if we continue with our current practices, by 2050 the ocean will hold more plastic than fish by weight. In short, plastic waste is an emerging feedstock that calls for our attention. The technologies that I will develop will allow the chemical recycling of plastic wastes into useful products such as fuels and chemicals.”

Toraman was also recently named the Virginia S. and Philip L. Walker Jr. Faculty Fellow in Materials Science and Engineering and Fuel Science Program at Penn State.

Prior to arriving at Penn State, Toraman was a postdoctoral researcher with the Delaware Energy Institute at the University of Delaware. She earned her doctorate in chemical engineering from Ghent University, Belgium. Toraman received her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering, both from Middle East Technical University, Turkey.

The Institutes of Energy and the Environment is a Penn State research unit that works to build teams of experts from different disciplines to see how new ways of thinking can solve some of the world’s most difficult energy and environmental challenges.


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Megan Lakatos